It was a magical night in Georgia when dreams came true for a 22 year old Baltimore Orioles prospect named Chris Tillman as the lights went out in Georgia on the Gwinnett Braves.
Tillman became the first Norfolk Tides pitcher to pitch a 9 inning no-hitter since May 15th 1992 when Dave Telgheder no-hit the Pawtucket Red Sox. In 2001 Steve Trachsel pitched a seven inning no-hitter against the Ottawa Lynx. Back then the Tides were with the Mets in the pre-Minaya era.
The Tides changed up their road uniforms tonight wearing the old red jerseys that hearken back to early 1960s when the Tides were an affiliate of the St Louis Cardinals and had not been worn regularly since the 2008 season.
Tillman who had begun the year with a series of rough starts has turned things around in a big way on this road trip. He began the trip with an eight inning 5-3 win in Charlotte where he controlled the game. However, tonight Chris made history in Lawrenceville Georgia where at Coolray Field on a chilly night in front of 2989 fans he tossed the first no-hitter of the year at the AAA level and is setting himself up for a rapid promotion to Baltimore along with his stable mate and the leading pitcher in the International League Jake Arrieta. These young and talented pitchers will along with Brian Matusz be the mainstays of the Orioles rotation for years if managed right. Both are exceptionally talented and though some are calling for their immediate promotion to the Orioles it would not be unwise to let them work a while longer in AAA before going up.
Chris allowed just two base runners both in the 5th inning, one a walk to Brent Clevlen and the other on an error committed by First Baseman Michael Aubrey. The rest of the game Tillman was perfect striking out 6 Braves and getting 13 more on ground outs. He threw just 105 pitches in the effort making it all look easy. With the win Tillman improves his record to 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA. Jim Parr would take the loss for the Braves his first of the year.
Chris was aided by excellent defense by a number of Tides players including Corey Patterson who ran down a deep fly ball by Wes Timmons in the 3rd inning which easily could have gone for a hit had Patterson not tracked it down.
Tides hitters came forward tonight scoring 6 runs on 9 hits aided by 3 walks issued by Braves pitchers and 3 errors two by Brandon Hicks and 1 by Joe Thurston. Seven of the nine Tides hitters hit in the game with Joey Gathright and Jeff Salazar having two each and Scott Moore and Michael Aubrey both connecting for doubles against Gwinnett starting pitcher Jim Parr. Jeff Salazar had two stolen bases and Corey Patterson stole another as everything came together for Chris Tillman and the Tides tonight.
If you have never been to a no-hitter in person or watched or listened in rapt suspense as one unfolded before your eyes on television or a broadcaster poetically called one on the radio then you have missed what I think is one of the most suspenseful and riveting events in all of sports. I saw Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets 6-0 in Candlestick Park back on August 24th 1975. I have been close to attending a couple of other’s missing Clyde Wright of the California Angels no-hit the A’s on July 3rd 1970 as our tickets were for the fireworks on the 4th and Nolan Ryan on May 1st 1991 when I had tickets for the following day.
However one has to imagine what it would be like for this young man to walk out onto the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning knowing how many no-hitters have been lost to unknown players who got a base hit, perhaps a line drive into the gap or a bloop into Right Field or even a grounder with eyes that gets past the outstretched glove of an infielder trying desperately to make the play to save his pitcher’s no-hitter.
Knowing things like this when the bench begins to realize that their starter is pitching the no-hitter the pitcher is left alone in the dugout. No one talks about what is happening as they do not want to “jinx” the pitcher. The tension begins to mount from about the 5th inning on as players and spectators alike sensing that something magical is happening before their eyes. With every pitch and especially every time the a batter puts the ball in play there is a collective gasp as everyone, except the opposing team prays to whatever Deity they worship, and I know that even the Atheists are praying to someone at this point for a putout to be made.
I was doing that as Tides Announcer Bob Socci called the 9th inning. Tillman got Brandon Hicks to ground out to Josh Bell at Third Base, Bell made the play and threw to Michael Aubrey for the out. He then faced Clint Sammons and his first pitch to Sammons was a strike. Sammons then swung at and missed the second pitch to take the count to 0-2. His next pitch was a ball that was high in the zone followed by another low. With the count 2 balls and 2 strikes Sammons hit one back to Tillman who ran towards first and tossed the ball to Michael Aubrey for out number two. My heart was now racing as Chris stepped up to the rubber and faced Braves lead off hitter Michael Young. The first pitch was fouled off by Young. Tillman’s next pitch was a ball, the count one and one. The next pitch also a ball and Tillman was behind in the count to Young a 250 hitter. Chris then wound up and delivered a called strike to move the count to two and two. Tillman paused and then delivered his fifth pitch to Young which Young hit a ground ball to Shortstop Robert Andino who threw to Aubrey for the out. The Tides mobbed Tillman coming out of the dugout to congratulate Chris and celebrate his accomplishment.
Steve Melewski of MASN.com has a page with audio of Bob Socci’s call of the last out, an interview with Chris and another interview with Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin. That page is linked here:
Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com the Orioles’ major league beat reporter was able to ask Tillman about the game:
“Everything kind of fell into place,” Tillman said Wednesday. “I was pitching around my fastball. I had my curveball when I needed it. I was able to throw my changeup and my cutter. My catcher [Adam Donachie] did a great job calling pitches. I had three or four great plays behind me.”
Congratulations Chris and congratulations to the Tides in the field and at the plate who helped this dream come true. I do think that this might be a magical season for the Tides as well as Chris Tillman and maybe, just maybe things will begin looking up for the Orioles.
Peace and blessings